Let the Plan Rule 7

You’re going to need good gear. I’m sure you’ve been practicing typing as fast as someone can talk — in Spanish — in the manner I recommended here. You’re spending time sitting in front of Spanish language television with your computer in your lap, writing down every word of dialogue. Good for you. That is exactly what you should be doing in preparation for your lead-pipe-certain September 30 departure for Bogotá.  

When Margaret and I arrived in Africa in 1987, the Radio Shack Tandy TRS-80 was already the laughingstock of the computer world. It held 36 kilobytes — that means only 36,000 characters. It had no hard disk. It ran off of — get this — AA batteries. The cool foreign correspondents were packing Toshiba laptops with 20 megabyte hard disks and rechargeable batteries.

Turns out, though, that for reporting in Africa, the “trash eighty,” as it was known, was the better axe. Traveling through Africa often meant having one’s backpack thrown onto the roof of a bus, or down off a pier into a dhow. A laptop with a hard disk — moving parts — wouldn’t last a month. You don’t have to take the Wayback Machine to 1987, though, to get a computer without a hard disk, and you don’t to put up with such limited storage and capacity. Every major maker of laptops, Apple included, offers laptops with solid-state drives. Buy one of those. At the same time, buy a solid-state backup drive that you can attach to your computer via USB. You’ll want to be backing up constantly because laptops disappear or suffer breakage on the road, usually at the worst possible time. Back up obsessively and keep your backup drive in your little trove inside the waistband of your pants with your passport, etc., or, if that’s too uncomfortable, someplace else safe. 

Planning on doing radio reporting? Television? We’ll pick this up tomorrow. 

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